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John Jeffries Air-Mail Letter Collection

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MA.00096

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of the original airmail letter written by John Jeffries plus the following: several photographic reproductions, various clippings relating to the letter, correspondence about its preservation, and a scrapbook compiled by S.R. Williams, director of the Snell Museum of Physics at Amherst College, presented to the College in 1947.

The original airmail letter is a badly stained, yellowed 3 x 5 card. The original is thought to have been written in a quick-fading ink made from pokeberries, and to have been traced over subsequently (and not always correctly) with pencil. Despite the tracer's efforts, a good portion of the note is too indistinct to be decipherable.


  • Creation: 1784-1961


Conditions Governing Access

There is no restriction on access to boxes 1 and 2 of the Jeffries Air Mail Letter Papers for research use. Access to the original letter is restricted for preservation purposes.

Conditions Governing Use

Requests for permission to publish material from the Papers should be directed to the Archives and Special Collections. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights.

Biographical / Historical

On November 30,1784, American physician John Jeffries (1745-1819) and French inventor Jean Pierre Blanchard (1753-1809) flew in a balloon from London to Stone Marsh, Kent. Dr Jeffries was the first American to fly, as well as the first meteorologist; and this flight was the occasion for the first airborne scientific observations of the atmosphere. To amuse himself, Dr. Jeffries wrote four notes to friends and dropped them over the side. Three of them were found and delivered to their addresses. The only one of these that still survives was addressed to Mr. Arodie Thayer. This note, considered the oldest piece of airmail in existence, was gifted to Amherst College by his nephew Thatcher Thayer (AC 1831).


0.75 Linear feet (1 half archives box, 1 flat box, 1 folder)

Language of Materials



John Jeffries was an American physician and the first American to be airborne. Collection includes a letter dropped from Jeffries's balloon during his historic flight, as well as clippings, correspondence and other materials about the letter.

Related Materials

John Jeffries, A narrative of the two aerial voyages of Doctor Jeffries with Mons. Blanchard; with meteorological observations and remarks. The first voyage, on the thirtieth of November, 1784, from London into Kent: the second, on the seventh of January, 1785, from England into France. London, Printed for the author and sold by J. Robson, 1786.

Cheryl Gracey, Sarah Sorscher, Peter Nelson.
Language of description
Script of description
Encoding funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Repository Details

Part of the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections Repository

Amherst College Archives & Special Collections
Robert Frost Library
61 Quadrangle Drive
Amherst MA 01002-5000
(413) 542-2299